Whatever emotional riptide I am going through, the holiday season always seems to amplify it–if I’m happy and grateful I feel 100x more so and if I’m sad and lonely the same is true.
The most difficult holiday season I ever experienced was also the one that helped me realize how strong I was. It was my first Christmas as a single mom. My ex-husband and I had separated in May and we had done Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve dinner together at my mother’s house (like always) for the kids, but Christmas Eve where wrapping and assembling toys to go under the tree was now my responsibility alone and I had under estimated this task–not so much the wrapping, I loved that, but the assembling. I had a 3.5 year-old-boy and a 6 year-old-girl and when they get a present on Christmas from Santa, it’s not just a box in pretty paper. It’s put together so they can play with it right away. And Santa went to town this year. He got a pirate ship and an easel and some Barbie contraption–all “Assembly Required.” And while this probably isn’t an issue for an elf at the North Pole, as a newly single mom who just got fed another dose of reality at 11pm alone in my living room on Christmas Eve, it felt like my Everest.
I can still see my living room floor blanketed in boxes, clear mini ziploc-looking packets of micro-pieces and instruction manuals. I remember scanning the room helplessly, partially blinded by the stinging tears that I could barely control and wondering to myself: how am I ever going to do this?
By 3am–three band aids and one two-hour pep talk later–everything was assembled and under the tree. I should have been exhausted, but I was fueled by the adrenaline that I had accomplished what felt impossible…and I was going to have to be up in a couple of hours when my babies would scamper out of bed. So I just went right to the coffee pot and stared at my illuminated Christmas tree (and reminded myself this is the tree I had carried up three flights of stairs myself just a week earlier and managed to get lights and garland around–even at the top). Then decided to do what my Dad had taught me to do in moments like this: write a gratitude list. If this sounds crazy, just stay with me for a moment.
I started with the letter A and worked my way to Z–something I am grateful for that begins with each letter–it’s a useful method that is tried and true.
A: Assembly Required; B: Band aids; C: Christmas trees with twinkle lights; D: Divorce; E: Everyday I get with my children; F: Family and friends… and so on.
By 4:30 my list was complete, I was on my third cup of coffee and the despair was gone… There was even joy so I let that sink in. I knew I would have a life. A new life, a different one, a “new normal” so to speak, I finally understood what that meant. It would be ok. If I could assemble that Pirate Ship, if I could be alone with my thoughts on a night when I don’t think I’d ever been alone… EVER, and still feel grateful, still feel JOY even, this would all be ok.
The best gift I got that Christmas was learning I could create my own hope, and it doesn’t take much to transform everything and can manifest from anything.
Jumping ahead, that two-hour pep talk was to the man I was dating at the time, who would eventually become my husband. I would have no idea that this would be my path, our family’s path, and that a year from this moment my life, our lives, would look very, very different. This was the first and last holiday I was a single parent, and I have no doubt it was because I allowed myself to be open to the possibilities, to be hopeful.
- Nothing Says Holiday Season Better Than A Slow-Motion Christmas Tree Explosion (VIDEO) (huffingtonpost.com)
- A Christmas Tree for the Preschool Classroom (squarerootspreschool.wordpress.com)
- T. S. Eliot’s “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees” (likeandmention.wordpress.com)